Red Fleet State Park officials report that tourists are vandalizing 200-million-year-old dinosaur footprints — ripping them and throwing them into the water.

Image credits: Phil Konstantin/Wikimedia Commons, jemckenz/Flickr.

Few things are as rewarding as traveling, especially if it’s outdoors. Whether you’re by yourself or with friends and family, it just feels so good to relax, detach yourself from the day-to-day stress, and enjoy some of nature’s wonders. Unfortunately, some are not content with just that. We’ve all had our share of “bad tourists,” but in this case, we’re talking about some really, really bad tourists.

Utah Division of State Parks spokesman Devan Chavez said that “at least 10” of the larger dinosaur footprints, which range from about 3 to 17 inches (7.6 to 43 cm) in length, have been stolen or destroyed since November 2017. Perhaps unknowingly, tourists take the fossilized footprint slabs and throw them into the nearby reservoir.

“It’s become quite a big problem,” Devan Chavez, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of State Parks, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “They’re just looking to throw rocks off the side. What they don’t realize is these rocks they’re picking up, they’re covered in dinosaur tracks.”

Josh Hansen, park manager at Red Fleet State Park in Utah, said that the surge in vandalism is alarming, and added that people probably don’t realize what they’re doing — or that dislodging the tracks is considered a crime. Under Utah law, all those who destroy such tracks are subject to a felony charge (although not technically fossils, the tracks are classified as such for legal purposes).

It’s not the first time this has happened. Back in 2001, three Boy Scouts were charged in juvenile court for this very issue. Then, park management was helped by amateur divers, who went into the water and retrieved most of the rocks. Now, they are considering doing the same thing — hiring divers to bring back the tossed dinosaur footprints.

This is troubling on many levels. The tracks are an important part of what makes Red Fleet State Park such a beautiful and special place, and one of the main reasons why tourists visit the park in the first place. Furthermore, they also have an important scientific value.

Paleontologists believe that 200 million years ago, dilophosaurus, part of the raptor family, attacked other dinosaurs who were resting or drinking from the swamp — in that very spot. The tracks are what remained of that event, conserved by the rare geological setting for what seems like an eternity, only to be destroyed because people want to hear something splashing into the water.

It’s unfortunate and disappointing that it’s come to this. The park is now adding additional signs, asking people to stop vandalizing the site. They also announced that they will try to “crack down” on whoever is doing this, and they also posted the following message on the park’s Facebook page to spread awareness:

“The dinosaur track site is deteriorating due to human impact. There has been a substantial impact to the track site from individuals throwing rocks (most containing dinosaur tracks) into the water over the past 6 months. People come to our park from all over the country and world to see this amazing feature. It is not illegal to throw rocks into the water, it is illegal to displace these rocks which contain tracks. Be aware disturbing these rocks is considered an act of vandalism. Many tracks are very distinguishable to the lay person but many are not. This is why it is so important to not disturb ANY rocks at the dinosaur track-way. You may not be able to tell if the rock you are tossing has millions of year old dinosaur tracks imprinted in it or not.”

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